Friday, October 11, 2019

Working 9-5

Guest post by Becky Dombrowsky, puppy raiser

What does a typical day look like for SSD Lucky? On most days, he comes to work with me.

Our mornings start at 7 am when my alarm goes off. He sleeps in a crate in my bed room right now because he’s still a young puppy. When he gets older, he’ll learn how to sleep in a dog bed at night. We head outside so he can “get busy,” and then he has breakfast. We play until we’re ready to leave for work.

Our commute is about 40 minutes. Lucky is now old enough to ride in the car without a crate. (When puppies are little, SSD has them ride in a crate in the car to help them settle in the car more easily and to keep them out of trouble. Lucky rides in my backseat or in the back of my SUV. He’s not quite big enough yet to jump in and out of the car on his own, since his bones and hips are still growing. Eventually, he’ll learn the cue to get in and out on his own.

When we arrive at the Capitol Building in Harrisburg, we park in the garage beneath the building, head for the nearest elevator, and find a place for Lucky to potty. Before entering any public space, Susquehanna Service Dogs requires that dogs be given a chance to take care of their business. Since I work in the city, Lucky’s options are limited, and he often has to use a small patch of grass near a busy road.

As we approach the Capitol, we have to walk past a giant fountain. Lucky loves to swim, so it’s tempting to investigate the splashing water. We enter then building and head to the mail room to pick up the day’s mail. The curved stairs on the way present a challenge for Lucky. There are only 10 steps, but because they’re curved rather than straight, they appear different to him. Lucky has a hard time walking in a slow, straight path and often turns himself around or just runs up them. I plan to continue trying to make this set up stairs a positive experience.

While I sort the mail, Lucky lies under the desk and ignores anyone who opens the door to the office. His focus remains on me as I load the electric mail opener that zips letter through a conveyor belt and slices them open.

The rest of Lucky’s day varies day by day. He spends a lot of time in my cubicle, either hanging out in his crate or under my desk. He has bones and toys he can chew on, but he spends a lot of time snoozing. When I need to run paperwork to offices throughout the Capitol, Lucky usually tags along, giving him a chance to go outside. He has gained all kinds of experiences. He’s walked by protesters and loud drums in the rotunda. He attends meetings and lies under the table, only interrupting with the occasional puppy dream whimper.

I am very thankful for the opportunity to take Lucky to the office. He is the second dog I’ve raised in this office, and it’s a great training opportunity for him.

It has also been a positive experience for my coworkers. When I first started bringing a dog to work with me, my neighboring coworker was afraid of dogs. Over time, she began asking to say hello to the dog, and a few months later, she welcomed under her desk.

A couple of my coworkers wanted to share their experiences:

“Having a service dog in training in our office has been a really unique and positive experience. I’ve never worked with service dogs in any capacity before, so this has been a great opportunity for me to learn about the process and see it in action. Lucky is the first service dog puppy we’ve had in the office and it has been fantastic to see his growth and progress every week. He brings so much joy to our work space, even when he’s having a rough day, and he can always make us laugh or provide a soft head to pet when our workday is particularly stressful. I’m very grateful to work with an SSD volunteer!”

“Having a service dog in training in your office is a cool experience because you’re indirectly helping the dog become a working dog that will one day help someone who really needs it. Plus, being in an environment that is constantly changing and sometimes stressful, a dog is helpful to ease the tension in the room. Since moving away from my dogs, I do not have that stress reliever to come home to, so it’s nice to have one at work with me. Who would not want a dog as a coworker?”

Help Susquehanna Service Dogs train more dogs like SSD Lucky to become life-changing service dogs! Donate to build a new training center, where SSD’s dogs in advanced training can learn specific tasks to support their future partners:

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Puppy Swap for Success

Different raiser, different house, different routine—it’s a puppy swap! SSD Lucky spent a week with puppy raisers Revenda and Brian Bierley to broaden his experiences. These puppy swaps are an important part of Lucky’s early socialization, helping him learn to work with other people and settle in to a new environment. After all, he’ll one day live at our kennel during the week while he’s in advanced training, and then he’ll ultimately go live with his new partner.

Revenda chronicled Lucky’s time with them:

“When he arrived, SSD Lucky was extremely excited to find SSD Russet, a 16-month-old golden retriever, waiting to show him the ropes. Their first introduction was typical: a lot of circling and sniffing. Lucky quickly became Russet’s sidekick and they enjoyed a lot of playtime. On occasion, Lucky’s energy surpassed Russet’s patience, and Russet took refuge in a quiet corner of the house.

Lucky’s first outing occurred the second day of his puppy swap when he visited the Carlisle Library. The library is a great place to take young service dogs in training because it offers a wide array of opportunities to practice newly learned cues along with new experiences.

Lucky practiced down-stays in the book aisles and went under chairs and tables. We also found some unique surfaces for him to stand on, practiced walking on stairs, and every worked on his elevator skills. Lucky will practice these behaviors in many different environments as he continues his journey to become a service dog.

He did such a lovely job practicing his newly learned cues at the library that we added a short walk around town. We kept the walk short, but it gave him the opportunity to experience the noise of traffic, crossing a crosswalk, and walking up cement steps.

On Friday, he went swimming with Russet. They enjoyed romping around the pool, chasing each other, and retrieving toys from the pool. Lucky quickly found his inner water dog and is well on his way to becoming an accomplished swimmer.

On the weekend, Lucky went on an outing with Russet. We took both dogs to Kohl’s, where Lucky (and Russet) practiced loose leash walking, down-stays, and “under.” This time, Lucky has the added distraction of working in close proximity to another service dog in training. This was a very successful outing, and Lucky was unfazed by Russet.

Toward the end of our time at Kohl’s, two small children asked to say hello to Lucky. He did a nice job keeping all four paws on the floor, even as his little tail was wagging a mile a minute.*

On Monday, Lucky went on one more outing with us before his scheduled return to his raiser. He was a rock star at T.J.Maxx. For a 3-month-old puppy, he showed off some impressive loose leash walking. I heard multiple people commenting on how well he was doing. We also took the opportunity to practice “under” and down-stays, as well.”

It sounds like Lucky gained some valuable experiences! He’ll continue to build skills like these over the next 15-18 months.

*Note: Even though the public is not supposed to pet service dogs, we train all of our dogs to be able to handle greetings. They’re trained to keep all four paws on the floor and stay focused on the person holding the leash. It’s all part of their training to ignore distractions.

Help build a new training center for our dogs in training! Donate here:  

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Service Dog Training at the Elizabethtown Fair

Guest post by Becky Dombrowsky, puppy raiser and volunteer

One of the reasons I love raising a puppy is it encourages me to go out and experience new things. Last year, Matt and I moved from Harrisburg to Elizabethtown, PA to be closer to his job. In that time, we have explored some of the restaurants in the area, but that is about it. I was excited to learn that Etown has its own fair!

Matt and I had planned to attend on Thursday night with Lucky, but the weather was supposed to get into the 90s. Friday’s forecast was much cooler, so that was the better choice.   

Not having been to the fair before, I wasn't sure what to expect. Assuming there would be all sorts of smells and foods, I knew I needed to make sure to bring along good power treats to keep Lucky's attention. We packed dog food as usual, but I also had some other dog treats plus small pieces of hot dog. I like using hot dogs because the juice gets onto the kibble and turns the kibble also a higher value treat. Last I grabbed a travel bowl and water, and off we went.

We decided to pay $5 to park closer to the fair. I was amazed by all the people, rides, food, games, music, animals and smells! Since we didn't know our way around, we headed into the fair and started exploring. Click-treat, click-treat, click-treat. And then it started: "Excuse me, can I pet your puppy?" 

At this point, I can choose to say yes or no, based on Lucky’s behavior. I picked yes, and asked them to pet him behind his harness when all four feet are on the ground. Lucky practices a lot of greetings when he’s in the office with me, so I was confident he could be successful with the greeting. It went well, we took two steps, and someone else asked to pet him. I realized I had started down a rabbit hole and we had just became the most exciting thing at the fair. We continued with a couple more greetings; it was nice for Lucky to practice greetings with younger children. Greeting with little kids can be tough for a puppy because the kids are so much closer to the puppy than an adult. We then made a quick exit and headed for the food.

While Matt ate the amazing fair foods, Lucky and I found a seat and listened to the music coming from the stage. We worked on "down" and hanging out as the sun set.

From there, we decided to head over to the animal section. The fair had many farm animals, which Lucky had never seen before. First up was the sheep. Lucky wasn't so sure about him, and we worked up to being a couple feet away. 

Lucky did get startled with the sheep baa-ed at him. I decided to make this less stressful on both animals and picked Lucky up as we walked through the rest of the animal area to also meet a cow, baby ducks, and a goat. 

It’s important to remember the animals at the fair had limited space to move away if they weren't comfortable, so I did my best to keep Lucky’s exposures short.

On the way out of the fair, there were far less people and it made walking by all the games and rides a lot easier. 

I think the night was a success. I look forward to getting to build Lucky's confidence with different animals as he grows. 

Help Susquehanna Service Dogs train more dogs like SSD Lucky! Donate to build a new training center: 

Monday, August 26, 2019

A Service Dog Makes an Impact on an Entire School

Guest post by Christi Henry, one of SSD Eagle’s handlers in Lampeter-Strasburg School District

Eagle’s impact on our school community has exceeded our wildest expectations. We knew his impact would be positive for our students, but we just could not imagine how much positive influence his presence would have on our entire school building.

Eagle cannot wait to get to school in the morning, and from the moment he walks in the door, he brings smiles to all who see him. When staff members hear his tags jingle, they come out to say hello and give him some morning love. Our custodians always have something special in their pockets for him, and the office staff loves when he lays down in the sunny spot in the middle of the office. He brightens everyone’s day and has helped to connect us as a staff in new ways. 

Just before the students come in, Eagle dons his vest and prepares for work. He waits at the doors with a handler during arrival to greet the kids. Kids squeal with delight to see him in the morning. Our principal has found that students who are reluctant to come to school are eager to see Eagle. The principal will work with the students and parents and have Eagle at the doors to help them transition more smoothly from home to school.

Throughout the school day, Eagle has a busy schedule. He begins with a morning walk-through of the building with the principal, and he stops in each classroom to wish everyone a good day. He has learned to give the kids a fist bump with his nose. The kids LOVE to get a fist bump from Eagle.

One of Eagle’s favorite jobs is working with small groups of striving readers, inspiring and motivating them to work hard. He snuggles in to listen to them read. One student practices reading jokes all week and then meets with Eagle and a handler on Friday for joke time in the snuggle chair. This student works SO hard to be ready for joke time.  Many of his jokes are about dogs. What dog keeps the best time?  A watch dog!

Eagle also works with our students who need emotional support, reminding them that will-power and self-control are skills that everyone needs to practice. He demonstrates by not touching a kibble placed on his paw. He drools to show them that it is hard work.  His presence in the room is calming, and snuggle time is a huge reward.

Eagle visits with our students in the life skills class each day. Students work hard to earn a golden ticket to help care for Eagle’s needs. Students learn to gently brush Eagle and fill his water dish for him. A favorite among the kids is double-leash walking Eagle.  One student who uses a wheelchair for mobility was struggling with her motivation to practice with her walker. Walking ten feet was a huge struggle.  With Eagle by her side, she is now walking laps around the whole third grade wing!

Eagle works with small groups of students, including our speech and language, learning support, and guidance groups. His presence encourages not only hard work and perseverance, but also conversation and self-reflection. When Eagle is present, students are willing to try harder, open themselves up to new experiences, and discuss topics that may be hard to face. He attends meetings with families, meets with the principal and guidance counselor when they work 1-1 with students, and even attends parent-teacher conferences.

Eagle also works in classrooms with large groups of students. Everyone loves when he hops up into a chair to see what’s going on. He reinforces classes of students who have earned time with him for great behavior. He attends pizza parties and movie days, and he is always available to educate group of students about his work in our school.

He participates in large group activities and attends special events in the performing arts center with the whole school. Sometimes, he is the star of the show, coming on stage to demonstrate and inspire good behavior. He is an integral part of our school, and everyone looks forward to seeing him at all of our school and district-wide activities and events. He participates in open houses, family nights, and school board meetings. 

In our district, our dogs also work together. In crisis situations, all of our dogs come together to assist with grief counseling. They also participate in mental health education activities and support students in emotional crisis throughout the school district. The dogs are able to help students calm and settle in order to move forward in the school day.  

Our dogs also have time to be together socially. Eagle enjoys pulling up to Gabby’s building for Wednesday morning play-dates with Gabby and Maya.  They run, tumble, and play ball together. This summer, we welcomed Monarch to the team.

At the end of each day, Eagle gets out of his vest and shakes off his hard work. He loves to run down the hallways, chasing a ball or stuffed toy. He cracks everyone up with his slipping and sliding around the corners. 

Eagle’s presence and hard work in our school has brought us all tremendous joy. We are grateful to have the opportunity to share each day with him. He is truly loved and his impact on our community is immeasurable.

Help Susquehanna Service Dogs train more dogs like SSD Eagle. Donate to build a new training center for SSD.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

SSD Lucky Had How Many New Experiences?

Wait! Don’t read this blog post if you haven’t already read yesterday’s post about SSD Lucky and his new experiences.

If you already read yesterday’s post, thank you! How many different experiences did you count from our tale of Lucky’s weekend?

Here are the ones we counted:
  1. New house
  2. Sleeping in the guest room
  3. Crate located at the foot of the bed
  4. Can’t see his raiser from his crate
  5. Two other dogs in the house
  6. Sounds from other dogs at night
  7. Yard sale (This could probably fill up 12+ experiences alone!)
  8. Down-stays on different surfaces
  9. New children
  10. New adults
  11. Wooden deck
  12. Down the wooden open riser stairs
  13. Up the wooden open riser stairs
  14. New backyard

Look for the next post about SSD Lucky in the coming weeks! 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Can You Count All of SSD Lucky's New Experiences?

Meet SSD Lucky! He’s two months old today, and we’re going to be following him throughout his training to become a service dog. He’s part of our Fortune Litter, born on May 21.

Lucky is being raised by Becky Dombrowsky, one of our long-time raisers. He’s the eighth dog she has raised. Do you know any of these dogs?
  • SSD Scotia, one of our former breeders
  • SSD Bridge, currently working as a balance dog
  • SSD Jade, one of our demonstration dogs
  • Raptor, a beloved pet
  • Larson, currently working as a detection dog with the United Nations
  • Lincoln, a beloved pet
  • SSD Larry, currently in advanced training

Lucky lives with Becky, her husband, Scotia, and four cats. (Yes, you can raise a puppy if you have other animals in your family!) On weekends, Larry returns from advanced training, adding another dog to the mix. Growing up with other animals is a wonderful experience for our puppies in training since we never know if their future partner will have pets.

But that’s a potential topic for the future. Today we’re going to talk about early puppy experiences.

The goal is to expose the puppies to 12 new things every day. These new things can be sights, sounds, smells, surfaces, places to potty, objects, and more. The key, though, is to make sure each experience is a positive one so the puppy builds up memories of lots of positive experiences they can draw on throughout the rest of their training.

Lucky had a busy weekend! How many different experiences can you count?

Over the weekend, Lucky went with Becky and her husband to her parents’ house for a neighborhood yard sale. They spent the night, staying in the guest room. Lucky slept in his crate, which is where he usually sleeps. However, unlike at home, Lucky’s crate was at the foot of the bed and he couldn’t see Becky. There were two other Labradors in the house, and Lucky could hear them move around the house at night, even though he couldn’t see them.

During the yard sale, Lucky practiced long down-stays, an important skill for service dogs to perfect in all environments. Since many new people stopped by the yard sale, he also worked on calm greetings with kids and adults of all ages. (Even though people aren’t supposed to pet service dogs, we still make sure our dogs learn how to properly greet people. We’ll talk about that in a future blog post.)

Perhaps Lucky’s biggest new experience happened in the backyard. Becky’s parents have a deck with wooden open riser stairs. Little Lucky calmly trotted down the stairs to the grass without a problem. Going back up was a different story. The backs of the stair were open and looked completely different. He wasn’t sure he could go back up. “From my point of view, it looked easy,” said Becky. “But from his view, it didn’t look safe or even possible to get back up on the deck.”

She let Lucky explore the stairs without any pressure to climb them, and as he got more comfortable, he walked up two steps! “We’ll continue to expose him to stairs like this as he gets older,” said Becky.

How many experiences did you count? Let us know in the comments. We’ll post the ones we counted tomorrow afternoon.  

All of these new experiences are helping to prepare Lucky to be a service dog. By law, he’ll be able to accompany his partner anywhere that’s open to the public, so he needs to be able to calmly handle and even enjoy being in many different environments.

Look for more posts about SSD Lucky in the future!

Help us build a new training center for our puppies like Lucky! Donate today:

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Service Dog Makes His Partner’s World Bigger

Guest post by Heather Campbell

I grew up an overachiever. One teacher described me as having an A+ personality instead of the regular A type. So I thought nothing of working two jobs and going to school full time when I was 24 in 2012. It was hard, but I loved to work hard and I was going after my dreams. Then I started having my seizures and everything changed rapidly. My world became very narrow. I didn't leave my apartment for much of anything, my depression and anxiety shot through the roof, I was dealing with seizures, fainting, and nerve pain, and I found that many things that seemed so easy before—like picking something up off the floor or walking for long periods of time—were suddenly out of reach.

When I got my diagnosis, one of the things recommended to us was looking into having a service dog. As soon as I could, I started applying. SSD was the only one in the half dozen applications I initially sent out that said yes. From that first submission to receiving SSD Cricket, it took four years. In that time, I had over a dozen concussions and had injured myself in many ways with my seizures. I still struggled to get out of the house, to the point where I was starting to get afraid to do so.

SSD Cricket

When Cricket walked in during Meet the Dogs, it was like everything clicked into place. He zeroed in on me right away, was eager to please, gentle despite his food drive, and a giant goof when we were just getting to know each other. I remember telling Amanda [SSD’s director of training and breeding] and the others "I think he just fetched my heart and took it with him." I was hopeful for a match from the group after doing so well, but I truly was hoping for Cricket above all.

Heather and SSD Cricket with her wife and Cricket's puppy raisers

Being matched with him was amazing, but training with him was even better. He was responsive and I could see opportunities opening in front of me with every moment. He read my body better than I could sometimes and responded amazingly. During one of the practices with the cue Pillow, where he pillows my head while I'm on the ground, I found myself feeling a seizure coming on. Despite it only being Cricket's second time seeing one of my seizures, he stayed right where he was and I was able to just focus on getting through it. He helped me up to my knees after and I couldn't stop myself from crying. 

SSD Cricket relaxing under a table

Looking at Cricket was like looking at a chance at having a life again. He's the key to taking my world- which has consisted mostly of my house and times my wife could take me places- and making it bigger. I don't need to be afraid of going places. I'm not afraid of being alone. Because I'm not alone- I have my partner, and we're looking out for each other. He's given me both purpose and independence. 

Cricket and I couldn't be a better pair. We both strive to do well, we respond amazing to praise, and we are both so proud to be part of the SSD team. Normally, I'm a rescue sort of animal parent, but in this case, the rescue went the other way around. He's rescued me. 

To support future partnerships like Heather's with SSD Cricket, donate to build a new training facility for Susquehanna Service Dogs. With a new facility, SSD will be able to serve more people on our waiting list in a shorter amount of time. You can make a difference! Give now:

Friday, May 17, 2019

How SSD Nugget Changed a Life

“One of the ways Nugget has helped me in life is by giving me the ability to walk on my own to the pond near my house for the first time ever.”

That’s what Marissa Kitzinger says about her service dog, SSD Nugget. Nugget has been giving her the confidence to do things she never thought she could do before.

For years before getting Nugget, she dreamed of walking by herself to the local pond to go fishing. Three days after her service dog came home with her, she got herself and Nugget ready and went for a walk in the neighborhood, something she hadn’t done in the 15 years she had lived there. Since that day, they have gone on many walks and went fishing at the local pond.

Rosemary, Marissa’s mother, says, “Nugget has an effect on Marissa that is hard to explain but easy to see. She walks taller with confidence in public spaces, she is calmer in crowds, and she is more focused on Nugget and less distracted. I imagine they will have many new adventures and experiences together as Marissa continues her college journey and chooses her path in life.”

The world has opened for Marissa, with the help of the black lab by her side.

You can be part of stories like Marissa and SSD Nugget. Donate to help a dog change a life through our CrowdRise campaign. Every dollar you donate brings us closer to building a new training facility so we can continue training and placing dogs like Nugget.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

SSD Phelps Is My Lifeline to the World

Guest post by Lisa Edwards, partnered with SSD Phelps

This October, I successfully obtained a service dog through Susquehanna Service Dogs. His name is SSD Phelps. SSD Phelps is a gentle giant and he is attentive and supportive of my anxiety from PTSD due to my military service. As we embarked on our journey together, it was clear to the staff, volunteers, and other partners that Phelps was clearly allowing me to gain confidence. Without the support from his whelping family, puppy raisers Katie and Eddie, and with the army of support from staff, trainer, volunteers and everyone who make SSD the organization that it is, Phelps and I could not have made the strides that we have in changing my life. Phelps is my lifeline to the world and has opened doors that I would have never dreamed could be open again.

When Phelps was born his whelping family made sure that he got used to lots of different sounds and objects. She worked on socialization him with his siblings, essential training needed for newborn puppies. After 8 weeks, she successfully transitioned Phelps to his puppy raisers, Katie and Eddie, who were instrumental in preparing Phelps for a life of service. They helped him learn basic cues, and then things I need him to do for me. They orientated him to the public and other animals and prepared Phelps for advanced training. For 2 years, they went to puppy classes, progressing Phelps through the different stages of training until Phelps was ready for advanced training. At the SSD facility, Phelps stayed at the kennel Monday through Friday and went back to Katie and Eddie on the weekends where they continued to work with him.

Once Phelps entered advanced training, Kara (one of SSD's trainers) took over his training to do specific tasked that I needed him to do for me. She taught him lap, squish, go behind, find the phone, find me, and other tasks. Phelps knew the cues when we started team training. I believe it was easier to train Phelps than it was to train me. Kara could not do this alone. The other SSD staff made sure that Phelps was ready for training every day and after training, they took care of him in the evenings. They made sure he was fed, and had time just to be a dog by allowing him to play with the other dogs in the kennel with him.

None of this could not of happened  without the dedication of SSD staff, and countless volunteers who made sure that Phelps made all his veterinary appointments, transported him back and forth to different training sites around Harrisburg, and watched him when his raisers left town. The fundraisers that are set up throughout the year to support all the dogs in the program are critical, as well as educating the community about what a service dog is and where these dogs can go in public.

SSD Phelps has already made a difference in my life. He has become the lifeline to a world that had been closed off to me for many, many years. Phelps and I have been to state parks that I had not been to in many years. We have been to the movies, which I had not been to in 22 years. We have gone out to eat. We have gone to many stores in my area, and have many more adventures ahead of us. We even have some speaking engagements where I will educate people on service dogs, service dog etiquette, and explain what SSD does and what the process is for obtaining a service dog through them.

Phelps has given me a lifeline to the world! 

Help a dog help a veteran by donating to Susquehanna Service Dogs. SSD is in the middle of a capital campaign to build a new training facility to train and place life-changing service dogs. Your donation makes a difference and changes lives! 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Changing Lives at 95

Post by Pam Foreman, Director of Susquehanna Service Dogs

Every year when we give the Nancy and Robert Fierer Spirit of Volunteerism Award, we know so many are deserving. In fact, that is exactly what this year’s recipient said when I told him he was chosen. He said, “What about all those raisers and other volunteers who do so much more than me and are so much more deserving?” That is the humble nature of this year’s recipient, Melvin Brownold. 

At 95 years old, Mel is Susquehanna Service Dogs’ eldest volunteer, and a true inspiration to other SSD volunteers and staff.

He began volunteering in 2009 when his wife Janie became ill, and he wanted a project to throw his energy into as he embarked on a new stage in his life.

As a retired Air Force Pilot, Mel knows the meaning of service and dedication to a cause, and that is exactly what he has done for SSD. He has dedicated his energy to our mission and championed SSD over the many years he has volunteered.

Most notably Mel has made an impact by being a public volunteer.  Each week he can be seen pulling up to a mall, or a grocery store, or other venue in his baby blue convertible (weather permitting, top down), where he meets the trainers and other public volunteers to help train our AT dogs and prepare them for their future partner.  

Despite his age, and some of the physical challenges that come with it, he is always on time and ready to work his dog, even if the weather isn’t all that agreeable. Three years ago Mel underwent heart surgery. After a short recovery he was back volunteering. He hasn’t skipped a day volunteering for SSD since. He is reliable and engaged, putting his own comfort as secondary to improving someone’s life through the gift of a skilled service dog.

Mel is the proud father to five children, grandfather of seven, and great-grandfather of three. Whenever his family is in town, he stops by for a visit to show them the work we do. His love for SSD is truly apparent during these visits. Actually, Mel takes any opportunity he can to educate anybody about SSD, as well as how they too, can contribute.

Mel donates financially and encourages others to do the same, he shows up at informational meetings and at events with genuine interest, a willingness to serve, and with wise counsel. He is an intelligent, experienced businessman and offers a sharp mind and a lifetime of expertise to SSD.

Mel’s fellow volunteers describe him as a joy to be around and an inspiration, humble in nature, deeply caring about the needs and comfort of the dogs as well as their needs. He is also described as a lot of fun. Like the time he fooled them into thinking he was carrying the 70 pound black lab he had been training earlier that day, only to find as they got closer it was a stuffed animal he bought when they weren’t looking. After they recovered from their shock and concern, the dog (named Neut, for Neutered) was strapped into the front seat of his convertible and off they went.

While his time volunteering in a physical capacity may evolve and as he’s questioned his physical ability, his first and biggest concern is whether he will hinder the needs of the dogs and program, and asks, “When that happens what else can I do for SSD? Where can my efforts best serve the program?”

When we think of Nancy and Robert, and especially Nancy and what she epitomized regarding perseverance in support and love for this program….and doing so as a volunteer, we think of Mel, because he also epitomizes that same spirit. 

He is contributing in a full, robust way, with his main focus being what is good for the dogs, and SSD, and future partner--and doing so at 95 years old.
Please join me in congratulating Mel on this well-deserved recognition.

The Nancy and Robert Fierer Spirit of Volunteerism Award is given out annually to a volunteer who is a champion of SSD and our mission. Recipients of this award not only support our work raising and training service dogs, but they truly embrace the heart of our mission--to support people to live their best lives with their service dog at their side.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Help a Dog Change a Life

We're so excited to share our new video with you! Please watch and see how a cute little puppy grows up to change someone's life!

But we're excited for more than just our video. Today, we launched our CrowdRise campaign to help raise funds for a new training complex so we can continue to train high quality assistance dogs. We need your help to make it a success!

Visit our CrowdRise campaign, donate, and share!

As Kira says in the video, assistance dogs are "living proof that a life has been changed."


Monday, April 1, 2019

This puppy has BIG plans!

This little puppy has BIG plans! We’re unveiling something big next week, and we’re going to need your help to make it a success. We’re as excited about it as this puppy running down the hill!

Get ready for the big reveal on April 8 because #DogsChangeLives!

We see how dogs change people’s lives every day. From the moment they’re born, our puppies start changing lives.

Our whelping families often tell us that even though it’s a lot of work to take care of tiny puppies for their first eight weeks, they always miss them when it’s time for the pups to move on to their raisers.

The puppies spend 15-18 months with their raisers, learning good house manners and over 20 cues, and practicing their skills in public  in places like stores, sporting events, movie theaters, schools, and more. With every step of their journey, they’re making an impact.

Puppy raiser Sandra Creason says, “Raising service dogs has become such a huge and important part of my life. I don’t remember what my life was like before I started this journey.”

Perhaps most significantly, these dogs change the lives of their partners. Bill Glaser is partnered with SSD Savannah, and their bond has changed Bill’s life. His wife, Ali, says, “He has hope, and her name is SSD Savannah!”

Has a dog or service dog made an impact in your life? Share your story in the comments!  

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Bring Your Dog to PawsAbilities!

Who’s coming to PawsAbilities on Saturday?

We’re holding canine festival on March 30 from 9 am to 4 pm at the Lebanon Valley Expo Center. You and your dog can shop at all the vendors, run the lure course, try your luck at Paw Draw, and of course, play your favorite Dog Olympic Games!

Most of our Dog Olympic Games are based on the skills we teach our service dogs. But don’t worry! All dogs are welcome and able to play these games.

Some games will test your dog’s self-control, like Temptation Tower where you build a tower out of dog treats while your dog ignores it. Self-control is at the foundation of our service dog training. Our dogs have to ignore food and other enticing things in the environment.

Other games will test your dog’s ability to move around in space, like the fan favorite Doggy Limbo. What does the limbo have to do with service dog training? Our dogs need to be able to go under tables and benches, and curl up in small spaces like under the seat of an airplane. They may need to crawl under a chair to retrieve an item that rolled under there.

Some games will test your dog’s ability to listen to and perform cues promptly, like Musical Hoops, where your dog must sit with at least two paws in the hoop when the music ends. As working service dogs, our dogs must not only perform tasks promptly, but also enjoy their work. For example, if their partner drops something, the dog will need to pick it up every time.

Other games are just for fun, like the Clean Plate Club. What dog doesn’t want to eat dog biscuits, cheese, and hot dogs? The majority of the dogs we train are labs, and they’re incredibly food motivated. (That’s why self-control is also so important!) Biscuits and cheese? Yum! Hot dogs? Delicious! How about lettuce? Lemons? Play the game and find out what your dog will eat!

We hope you and your dog will join the fun at PawsAbilities! Tickets are available online. And parking is free!

You can find all the details at